A Day at Sipapu

7 May 2021

The sun rises in heart-breaking pink across the still sheen of the Tambopata river, accompanied by the delightful chorus of over 600 bird species. The chatty Oropendola discuss their daily plans and teach the kids to mimic other birds, while building their signature pendulum nests. These distinctive homes sway from the Capirona tree guarding the centre of our rainforest garden. Its bi-annual bark shedding gives it a smooth surface impossible for lianas to climb. This in turn protects the Oropendola homes from opportunist monkeys. Everywhere you look you see the intricate perfection of nature at play.

In the cool of the early morning, I walk the forest among our mighty Castaña trees. Another example of the fragility and perfection of our biosphere: the fruit of these giants is the Brazil nut. Despite their formidable size and strength, Castaña’s only thrive in this band of the lower Amazon, stretching through Madre de Dios in Peru and into Bolivia and Brazil.

Castañas produce poorly in plantations, due to their specialized pollination system. They flower for only two or three days each year and their pollinators, the Euglossine bees are only found in undisturbed lowland forest. The bees in turn rely on specific orchids for their survival. Orchids, being extremely sensitive, do not grow in disturbed or secondary forest. Once they produce fruit, propagation of the Castaña relies on the humble Agouti.

This sharp- toothed rodent is the only creature able to gnaw through the hard outer casing to the tasty snack within.  Abundant Brazil nut harvests take advantage of the rodents’ hoarding instinct. Over time the agouti forgets where some nuts are buried, or it dies, leaving the nuts to germinate successfully. Again, it’s all very intricate.

The inspiration for every cathedral is obvious in the towering Amazonian tree canopy. This weave of ancient, life-giving forest screams with life. Red and green macaws fly in pairs to the nearest clay lick. Fleets of parakeets and parrots swoop and dive above the treetops. The Hoatzin, Amazonian pheasants, scuffle quickly into the undergrowth. One luxuriates in the wing and call of a new dawn, a new day, endless possibility being birthed.

A giant anteater ambles across the path ahead. Unhurried as its long tongue hoovers a file of ants. Monkeys chatter and gambol across the canopy. In the distance, the haunting song of Howler monkeys seems to serenade the elements. Peccaries scuffle in the undergrowth and a silky tailed Taira clambers along a tree branch. Jewel coloured butterflies and moths’ flit in and out. The electric flash of a Blue Morpho lights the dense green foliage. Lizards scuttle from the path. Everywhere the senses alight there is life in myriad forms.

Camouflaged camera traps collect footage of who we share our space with. Last week we were treated to a pair of jaguars, a mother and maturing child—mystical, shy beasts utterly at ease in their natural habitat.

Climbing up, I arrive at the ceremonial field, a large flat clearing created by a long-ago storm. I can feel the sun’s heat as I emerge from the shade. There is a primordial stillness here, perfect for contemplation as you watch the hawks and eagles circling overhead.

The thought of breakfast lures me away. I stroll downhill past a tangle of medicinal plants. Eighty per cent of the world’s pharmacy originates here. The plants bring healing through infusions, tinctures, poultices, pastes and smokes. Here, Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet is open to all.

But breakfast! I go through the citrus chakra to collect limes, oranges and bananas. In the kitchen I enjoy a brew of organic hot chocolate harvested from our cacao trees, with the added luxury of milk made from brazil nuts. Scrambled eggs from our free-range chickens top a slice of home-baked bread. I tuck in and contemplate the day ahead, surrounded by the buzz and burble of the forest.

Here one can live a life of cultivating, planting, harvesting, preserving. Everything grows fast and usually with more than one crop per year. How wonderful to drink chilled juice from coconuts and pineapples you have watched growing! Today I am harvesting turmeric, one of nature’s best anti-inflammatories. It grows effortlessly here.

It feels good to work on the land, as a team, breathing the forest air. You feel peaceful and connected. Laughing with my companions as we discover yet another crazy Amazonian insect doing its thing. From butterflies that drink turtle tears, to beetle larvae that glow in the dark, glittering fireflies, venomous caterpillars and ants that operate their own fungal gardens, the Amazon is home to a mind-blowing array of insect life.

In the afternoon, a large family of Capibara ambles past. Mum and dad regard us with an ancient gaze—untroubled yet watchful over their young ones, who tumble and squeal along the river bank. These creatures are the jaguar’s favourite dinner, yet they quietly survive, pursuing their own vegetarian dinner among the roots and tall grasses.

The moon is almost full. We take the boat out and cut the engine mid river, floating silently under the milky way. The stars drown us, their reflection in the water like sunken diamonds. Caymans watch from the muddy banks. Here and there the shadow of a night bird swoops in on prey.

Lying in bed, Nature’s orchestra lulls me to sleep, already talking to my dreams. Cicadas sound like medicine rattles. Frogs sound like car alarms. Velvet bats stir the moonlight. An owl sounds like a jaguar. From far off comes the eerie cry of the Ayamama bird.

Encounters with the Amazon are life-changing. The wilderness awakens something deep inside us. The wildness and fierce grace that has been bred out of us is rebirthed here. The forest plugs us back in. It reminds us what really matters. Nature is the great equaliser. No matter what colour we are or how big our bank balance, no matter our politics or gender persuasion, she grows, blooms, falls and grows again. She accepts us unconditionally.

After more than a year of pandemic isolation, a life of freedom seems more essential than ever. In Nature we are always at home. Now more than ever we are called to protect and preserve that home for future generations.

Since 2017, we have shared our home with friends and family and guests on some very special healing retreats. A year ago, the pandemic ended all that. As I write, Peru is still closed to UK and European visitors. A year on, we are running out of funds, and have now begun the search for Sipapu’s new caretakers.

Perhaps that’s you. We know you’re out there, and that, like us, you know that preserving these sacred spaces is an essential mission for our children and our children’s children.


If this calls to you, please visit https://sipapu.co/escape-for-good/ for further information.


All good things,

Davina MacKail, Director